Admittedly, this is not a musical blog post, so much as a blatant and gratuitous gloat-post to say that today, after a long 48 hours- which included repairing my shattered passenger door window (thanks DC) and rushing to Norfolk VA in the nick of time for my next obligation- Liz and Jimmy and I saw the ocean. Yes, I dipped my toes in the cool salt water, and felt the sun on my bare shoulders. It's a good day. I ain't goin' nowhere.
I apologize, it's taken a long time to get this second instalment up. This is entirely because ever since arriving in Elkins, WV about a week ago, I have been running from one amazing lesson, dinner, and/or jam to the next. Also, in the middle of all this, I drove out to Kerhonkson, NY (approx 8 hours away!!) to attend the NERFA conference- which was somehow even MORE non-stop than my time in Elkins- and then drove back again.
So here I am, with a couple of moments to spare.
Elkins, West Virginia.
I came to this little town because, although it doesn't like to brag, it is a mecca of oldtime masters. I mean it. I could probably throw a stick out the window and hit 2 fiddlers, and a clogger.
The folks I know here are both insanely busy performing and sharing folk music and dance, as well as welcoming and generous with their time and skills. I came here thinking I'd hunker down with 1 or 2 teachers, but because of limited schedules and availabilities, instead I've been feasting at a buffet of talent. At a moment's notice I've been throwing on my coat and rushing up the hill for a clogging lesson here or a fiddle lesson there. My cell has been like a pager for a drug dealer, it beeps, and I rush off!
So far I've been a lucky learner. I have had 2 clogging lessons- with Matthew Olwell and Becky Hill, 1 singing lesson with Emily Miller, and 1 fiddle lesson with Gerry Milnes. I'd say who's up next, but I just can never tell who might ring me up with an hour to spare!
Elkins is the home of Davis & Elkins College, and D&E is the home of not only the infamous Augusta Heritage Centre, but also the home of a budding (maybe even exploding) Appalachian Ensemble- a dance and music ensemble made up of students at the college, showcasing killer choreography, songs and tunes, and led by my friends Becky Hill and Emily Miller.
The very existence of the ensemble is so incredibly inspiring to me. As a former professional dancer and choreographer, this project makes me froth at the mouth- and it's very difficult to express why to those who don't know, or to those who may have forgotten that I devoted half a decade to building a roots-centric modern dance group before crossing over into the musician's world. So I've been just biting my tongue (which is hard because my jaw is gaping open) and marvelling at the motivation behind and the momentum of this program.
Last week I had the privilege of subbing in for Becky's clogging class. Instead of clogging, we had a play party day, and ploughed through a dozen games and dances. This week I get to go as a student, and bust out my taps.
And the fun continues.
But also, as I mentioned, last Thursday I drove out to the Catskills to attend the North East Regional Folk Alliance Conference (NERFA), and met up with my fabulous band who all drove down from Toronto. The conference is an opportunity for musicians, bookers, Radio DJs and other industry professionals to meet, and in particular this one is devoted to the North Eastern US region. Well, that may have been so- but I have to say after all is said and done, I came away from NERFA with a renewed pride for Canadian folk music. Obviously I have a love for American folk music, and so this is not coming from a place of disdain for American musicians. I simply mean that while at NERFA I became aware of the hilarious, brilliant, talented songwriters that make up the Canadian folk music community, and I was so honoured to have been welcomed into it.
Home is a nebulous thing when music leads you to it. It's nice to know I can find it wherever I go.
Meal of the week:
Spontaneous potluck in Elkins with bean/chicken soup, roasted vegetables, ginger chicken stirfry with homemade kimchi, home made beer and apple cranberry crisp- all from a farm nearby.
November 4, 2014
Entry #1 begins as I sit by the fire, listening passively as my host reads a story aloud to his son. The dogs are at our feet. I have just taken off my headphones after listening to my new obsession* approximately 10 times (*see Tune of the week, below).
I'm in Warrenton, Virginia. Warrenton is part of Fauquier County, and while there has clearly been new development around town, at its core it is 250 years old, and silently brimming with history . The trees* (*see photos below) are the largest I have seen outside of Cathedral Grove. The tree in front of this house is reportedly as old as the county itself. This house was built in 1899. I'm sleeping in an adorable separate section of the house, once used as “The Summer Kitchen”. It is its own small building, linked to the house by a small, and newly added hallway-the hallway was once the back porch, making the two buildings literally separate. There are 2 floors, each with just 1 small room (see the photos below). My host has explained this to me many times, and I'm going to do my best to relay what he just told me yet again: the summer kitchen was where they would cook during the warmer months of the year. Since the house is heated by wood stove, in the winter, they would cook in the main house, using the wood stove, and warming the house at the same time. In the summer months in Virginia, you might be able to imagine that cooking your food on a wood stove in the middle of your living room might be the most sadistic choice besides hopping in the pot of boiling water yourself. So cooking in this separate building kept the heat contained in the summer months. It also was a bit of an insurance system, says Rhys, in case your house caught fire from the fire in your stove- which was a rather common disaster. But at least if it happened in your summer kitchen, your main house MIGHT not be totally ruined.
My host and teacher for this leg of the journey is Rhys Jones. For many musicians, Rhys needs no introduction, but for my friends and readers who may not have their finger on the pulse of old time fiddle music, allow me to fill you in just a bit. I'll start with my own connection to Rhys because it's what brings me here in the first place. Long before I gave a rats ass about old time music, my dad got a CD with artwork from an old friend of ours, Ethan Miller, on the cover. That's about all I cared to retain about it before he put the CD into the van's player. I remember specifically sitting in the back seat of my parent's Dodge Caravan. I was on the right hand side. The CD is called Starry Crown, featuring Rhys Jones and Christina Wheeler on double fiddles (primarily) and when the music came out of those car speakers, it blew my opinion of old time fiddle music out of the water. It wasn't right away, but when I eventually did come around to playing fiddle myself, I b-lined it for that album and promptly set out to learn as much as I could with my little earbuds and “the amazing slow-downer” as my only companions.
When I met Rhys a couple of years ago, I had trouble expressing to friends just how significant this was for me. The first time I met him, here, this audio legend in real life, whom I had played along with secretly for years, graciously accepted that I should sit down and play with him- and become a friend. Yet again, the music I experienced that time, in real time, blew my mind, and inspired me to work towards new levels of fiddling.
So, I could tell you all kinds of things about his background and training and that stuff- but why else did they invent Google? This is MY blog, and in my story, what everyone should know is that right now, I am here studying the nitty gritty style points that are behind the man's fiddling that started my love affair with the fiddle.
It's not easy. Frankly I have felt like the crummiest player I know since I broke out my fiddle and started working here. But that's how it goes. The fiddle is an unforgiving little f****r, and it takes time, and it takes dedication. Thankfully that's what I've got for the next 8 weeks.
Tune of the week:
The Golden Ticket by Eric Merrill
Quote of the week:
“I wish I could go back in time and not eat so much food”- 8 yr old Juniper Jones.
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